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The Beggars

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A personal story revealing a prejudice hidden in a pocket of the mind.

This past Friday I had taken my granddaughter and one of her friends to Wal-Mart to buy items for Halloween. I was pulling out of the parking lot on to the road leading to the stop light when I noticed a white haired old man with a good-sized black dog asking for money. A car was pulling away and before I knew what I was doing, I pulled over to the old man, reached into my billfold and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill handing it to my granddaughter who gave it to the old man.

He took the bill and looked at it. Then he looked at me with tears in his eyes. It was obvious that he was not use to receiving that much money at once. He blessed me over-and-over. I began pulling away and noted further to the stop light a young family-husband and wife with a little girl appearing to be no more than four. Again, I stopped and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and gave it to the woman. The man held a sign saying, "Help us to get home. The couple had despair written in their body language and their eyes.

Why was I so generous? Was it to absolve my guilt because I had not given to beggars? On the other hand, was there something in the countenance of these people that touched me? Perhaps it was the memory of what some people went through during the Great Depression of the last century. Perhaps it was a random act of kindness on my part. For whatever reason I did it, I have no regrets.

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This act triggered an act of a random act of kindness from my childhood. The Great Depression of 1929 was taking its toll with so many people unemployed people, which were mostly men who were the breadwinners for their families. I was three years old and with my family, living in Dallas, Texas. My father had been out of work and had finally secured a job of delivering large blocks of ice. Few people at this time had electric refrigerators. Most of the people had what we called iceboxes. The ice deliveryman would load up his truck with 25 or 50 lb blocks of ice and drive to houses on his route where with a leather pad on one shoulder, he would take large tongs to grip the ice block between the points and hoist the ice up on his shoulder. He would then deliver it to the house and place the ice in the icebox. This year my father had injured his back while delivering ice and was unable to work.

My family and I were fortunate because we had relatives in Dallas who supplemented our income until my father could find another job, and this took six years. There was no welfare during those days. There were 'poorhouses' for the destitute people who were primarily the elderly and disabled. Those who were destitute and could physically labor were forced to do so on 'poorhouse' farms. This gradually faded away after the Social Security Act of 1935. I also learned later that my mother's family who were in better financial situations also sent money and hand-me-down clothes.

My sister and I were secure in the love of our Dallas grandparents, aunts and uncles. We were the only children on my father's side of the family and they doted on us. My grandmother worked as a seamstress in downtown Dallas and my grandfather was on a small state pension due to an injury he received while working for the Texas Highway Department. One aunt and uncle who were not married lived at home. To make ends meet, they rented two rooms. This meant my adult aunt, uncle and grandparents all slept on a 'sleeping porch' that was an addition to the house.

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Another aunt had married and she was a shrewd businesswoman. Her husband owned a garage where he repaired automobiles and always smelled of oil and grease. Aunt Jewel invested their money in apartment houses and usually had a nice income coming in. She was the mainstay of the family during these hard times.

Christmas of 1932 was upon us. We were given a tree and we had some beautiful ornaments that had belonged to my mother's mother. The tree sparkled and I know I felt secure and excited that Christmas morning would be the time to wake up and run into the living room to see what Santa Claus had left. This would be followed by the unwrapping of presents. Later we would drive over to my grandparents' home for Christmas dinner.

This Christmas morning Santa had left my sister and me, each a china tea party set. When we opened the presents, we found we each had received another identical china tea party set. Of course, my sister and I felt very fortunate to have received two sets! Then Mother suggested that Gloria and I take the extra sets next door where a family poorer than we were lived. They had two little girls almost the same ages as Gloria and me.

We learned that the family had to wait until Christmas Eve to get a leftover tree and when we took our gifts to them, we saw there were no gifts. I can even now remember standing and gazing at their tree. They had made balls out of cotton and strung popcorn around the tree. In my childlike wonder, it was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.

I learned at this early age the reward of a random act of kindness. My gift was and is the memory of that beautiful tree. This is not the Christmas season; however it is always a season for Random Acts of Kindness. Each of us in our own way can reach out and do a random act of kindness. We can even do it for our self.

When was the last time you treated yourself with kindness? Did you forgive your neighbor? Did you forgive a parent, a relative, a co-worker, an employer for deeds you thought were unfair? Forgiveness cleanses the past and is a kindness to one's self. Why not make every day a Random Act of Kindness - beginning with self.

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Bettye Johnson is the award-winning author of Secrets of the Magdalene Scrolls, an Independent Publishers Book Award Winner 2006. Moving from the cotton fields in Texas to the embassies of Paris and Tokyo, Bettye Johnson has a woven tapestry of (more...)

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